Chinese smuggling vessels have been discovered skirting recent UN sanctions that ban trade in marine products with North Korea. Container cars have been sighted making their way from other North Korean port cities to the city of Yongchon in North Pyongan Province adjacent to the West Sea, where North Korean companies are loading Chinese smuggling vessels with the sanctioned products.
“Despite Chinese border agencies stepping up enforcement of sanctions and blocking trade with North Korea, trade in marine products coming from the North appears to be on the rise. Smuggling boats from China are transporting hundreds of tons of marine products from the North back to Liaoning Province in China via international waters every night,” a source close to North Korean affairs in China informed Daily NK on November 29.
“North Korean trading companies used to meet in open waters in the West Sea, but the Chinese authorities began cracking down on these activities after they stepped up their enforcement of international sanctions. So now Chinese ships are going all the way to Yongchon in North Korea to collect the marine products and return to China, allowing both sides to continue profiting.”
After increasing their enforcement of international sanctions, Chinese border authorities have reportedly made it more difficult for companies to engage in trade and smuggling operations with their North Korean counterparts. However, this has resulted in fishing and trade vessels from both sides meeting in waters just off the coast of North Korea and exchanging goods that way.
According to the source, Chinese vessels are entering the area of the West Sea near Yongchon, North Pyongan Province after 10 pm when the tide is high. There they rendezvous with North Korean vessels and the products are loaded onto the Chinese ships, after which they sail back to international waters, taking about 4-6 hours to reach larger Chinese vessels and other smuggling ships. Deals are made at this point, and the Chinese vessels carry the marine goods back to China.
A single Chinese smuggling vessel is able to carry anywhere from tens to hundreds of tons of products, earning as much as 400,000 yuan (~$60,000 USD) in a single trip, the source explained.
Although China claims to have blocked the trade of marine products in line with international sanctions, the efforts of Chinese traders and North Korean fishing companies appear to be succeeding against these efforts.
Counter to the intention of sanctions, one of the effects of Chinese enforcement seems to be a doubling of the usage fee for Chinese smuggling vessels. Last year, usage fees were about 1000 yuan per ton of goods, but now companies have increased the fee to 3000-5000 yuan per ton.
An employee of a Chinese marine trading company said, “The reality is that the Chinese border authorities have very close relationships with the trading companies, and although they continue to claim increased enforcement, the trade in marine goods continues to do well.”
“Nobody is saying they are afraid of a Chinese crackdown,” a separate source in China added. “North Korean fishermen and companies simply cannot abandon their revenue, so they are carefully measuring the tides and waiting for the Chinese ships to continue carrying out their business. Hundreds of Chinese vessels are doing business this way every night.”
The areas frequented most by North Korean fishing vessels are off the shores of Wonsan, Rajin, and Chongjin in the East Sea, and Chongju, Yongchon, and others areas in the West Sea. Rental prices for container cars carrying products up to Sinuiju or Yongchon from the southeastern city of Wonsan are reported to be about $1,200 USD, not including fuel costs.
*This article was amended from an earlier version that misstated that these operations had been taking place off the coast of North Hamgyong Province. The correct region is North Pyongan Province.